Humans are very used to having different rules for different places. We don’t act the same way at a football game as we do in church, for example. These little compartments for our rules happen all the time, as we go from home to work or school, and when we go out to entertain ourselves.
We behave differently depending on whether we’re at a fancy restaurant or a fast food place, whether we go to a play or movie rather than a bar, and whether we’re at a museum or playing baseball in the park.
People learn the appropriate behaviors for particular places while growing up, ideally from their parents from an early age, but from society as well — if somebody started shouting in the middle of a library like they would when their home team scores, they would be corrected pretty quickly.
We’re capable of having multiple sets of rules, boundaries, and limitations, but that doesn’t mean that our dogs are…
The danger of partial leadership
There’s a danger of what I call “partial leadership.” This is when a human is a perfect Pack Leader in one situation, but then drops the reins, so to speak, in another. Most frequently, I see this with people who can control their dog on the walk, but have no control in the house, but it can happen the other way around as well.
At its simplest, what a good Pack Leader wants and gets from their dog is balance. They achieve this by rewarding the dog when she is calm and submissive and correcting her when she misbehaves. But this also requires consistency, which is where the problem of partial leadership comes in.
Be always aware of your energy
If we aren’t constantly aware of our own energy, it’s very easy for those human rules to put us in a place where we aren’t calm and assertive, and our dogs will react to this immediately. I saw a great example of this during the first season of “Dog Whisperer,” when I worked with a dog named Pepper.
Pepper was a Wheaton terrier mix who had been adopted at eight years old by a professional photographer, Chris. On the walk, she was perfect, following or right next to him — and he didn’t even need to use a leash. That perfection ended, though, as soon as the two of them arrived at the photography studio Chris shared with his partner Scott.
Inside the studio, Pepper became a completely different dog. When somebody came to the door, she would charge them, barking aggressively, and when clients came into the building, she would try to herd them by nipping at their heels. She even claimed a long vinyl sofa in the waiting area for herself, not letting humans get near it.
How your energy affects your dog
So how could a dog that’s “perfect” on the walk suddenly turn into a monster simply by passing through a doorway? It’s because Scott’s energy changed and he wasn’t even aware of it. Once he arrived at work, he stopped being calm and assertive. Focused on his clients and wanting to get everything right in the shoots, calmness gave way to anxiousness. Once he stopped having the energy of a Pack Leader, Pepper stopped following and took over the space.
Achieving calm, assertive energy is only one goal. After you’ve mastered it, the next step is learning how to maintain it as you go about your day. That can be a challenge because we are so used to naturally changing the way we act depending upon the situation that we’re in and the different human rules for each.
Your dog’s rules, though, shouldn’t change depending on location. Whether you’re at home, at work, in the car, or somewhere else, your dog should know to behave in a calm, submissive way. That can only happen if, as a Pack Leader, you are calm, assertive, and consistent.
Stay calm, and consistent!
Have you noticed how your dog reflects your energy?